Givenchy Play & Play Intense ~ fragrance reviews

Justin Timberlake for Givenchy Play fragrance

Thanks to “old” Givenchy marketing and publicity, whenever I see or hear the word “Givenchy” I think of Hubert de Givenchy. In ‘candid’ and professional photos he always looks at ease, and I don’t know anything about his private life…and that’s a GOOD thing. When the man or woman behind a brand is “mysterious” (or just plain circumspect) it’s easier to approach the brand’s products in a way that’s personal, a way that’s not besmirched by or connected to the designer’s life and personality — his or her drug use, dieting and exercise regime, sex life.

Every time I go into my local Nordstrom store and spray on some Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, the Armani sales person tells the same old “Creation Story” — how young Giorgio always went to church with his grandmother and loved the incense-infused services; Armani asked his perfumer to recreate the church-incense aroma with Bois d'Encens. Being susceptible to imagery, now, when I spray on Bois d’Encens, I imagine the too-tanned, white haired head of today’s 75-year-old Armani on a six-year-old boy’s body and see a classic Italian grandma, black dress and stockings, lace veil pinned to her head, pulling little Armani down a cathedral aisle, censers swinging and smoking all around them. I don’t like other people’s faces (and life stories or fantasies) intruding on my perfume experiences.

Justin Timberlake is the “image” of Givenchy’s two new men’s perfumes: Play and Play Intense, and he comes with a lot of baggage. When I see Timberlake, I think: ‘N Sync (Boy Band! Dancing! and Singing! — triple cringe!!!), Britney Spears (nasty break-up!), Cameron Diaz (break-up deux!), Jessica Biel (possible marriage! possible kids! possible break-up No. 3!)…and none of those associations excite or interest me. It is interesting how European perfume houses hire American actors for their promotional campaigns instead of models. To me, Liv Tyler (Givenchy Very Irresistible and Givenchy make-up), Hilary Swank (Guerlain Insolence), Matthew McConaughey (Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men), Josh Hartnett (Emporio Armani Diamonds for Men), Anne Hathaway (Lancôme Magnifique) — and now Timberlake — de-glamorize the brands they represent. (Perhaps these actors are just too middle-of-the-road and ‘All-American’ for my tastes since I’ve never complained when seeing European actors such as Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve front a perfume.)

Givenchy explains the Timberlake hiring: “We were looking for a man who’s recognized all over the world, someone new to the world of perfumery, and with great seductive potential. Most importantly, we needed to find a man who could embody the modern elegance specific to the Givenchy brand as well as all the facets of Play.” 1

Play and Play Intense were created by perfumers Lucas Sieuzac and Emilie Coppermann (with ‘help’ from Françoise Donche, creative director for fragrance at Parfums Givenchy).2 Alain Lorenzo, president of Parfums Givenchy, said: “We …told the perfumers to take the Caribbean amyris wood note and make one scent which is more polarizing and one which is more accessible.” 3


Play is the “accessible” fragrance. It contains bergamot, mandarin orange, bitter orange, grapefruit, Caribbean amyris wood, black pepper, coffee flower, vetiver and patchouli.  Play starts off warm and gauzy with citrus, a smooth wood note, and some vetiver. Play’s “putrid pepper” mid-development is a disaster on my skin (the brutal accord smells plastic-y, then funky — as in ‘dirty washcloth’). After its middle notes burn off, Play reverts to a simple, non-confrontational, standard-issue department store men’s fragrance: cheap-smelling citrus and soft musk.

Play Intense

Play Intense

Play Intense contains bergamot, mandarin, Caribbean amyris wood, pink pepper, coffee flower, labdanum, tonka bean, vetiver and patchouli. Play Intense amps up the power of what I assume is the amyris wood note and adds a good dose of tonka bean. (Play Intense reminds me of Givenchy Pi.) Play Intense almost smells edible in mid-development, like nougat-y, vanilla-rich candy. Play Intense’s dry down has none of the unpleasantness of regular Play; Play Intense has less citrus and is richer in character. I don’t find Play Intense “polarizing”; I prefer it to Play. (After the European roll-out of the perfumes last year, Play accounted for 60 percent of sales to Play Intense’s 40 percent share — so I’m in the minority when it comes to deciding which of the two perfumes smells best.) 4

Shock of shocks: at the end of my sampling, I found Justin Timberlake more interesting than Play or Play Intense, and I appreciate his take on celebrity fragrances: “I don’t know that I would be completely comfortable with a my-name fragrance. It feels like cheating, almost. It doesn’t seem like you’re creating anything.” 5

Play and Play Intense both have good lasting power; on my skin Play has stronger sillage. The Play and Play Intense bottles were designed by Serge Mansau who took ‘inspiration’ from portable media devices. The gadget-y design reminds me of Avon bottles of yore: easy takes on every-day objects (not pretty, not very original).

Givenchy Play ($53-71) and Play Intense ($57-76) Eaux de Toilette are available in 50 and 100 ml sizes; grooming products are also available.

1. Pamela Baxter, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics N.A. and President and CEO of Christian Dior Inc., quoted in Women's Wear Daily, 7/10/2009.

2-5. Women's Wear Daily, 7/10/2009

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  1. Carlos BFL 319 says:

    So in other words Mr K….press fast forward eh?

    • Kevin says:

      C: yes! Or “Erase”!

  2. miss kitty v. says:

    When I think of Justin Timberlake, I think of the SNL “D*#% in a Box” skit. And if there’s anything that doesn’t make me want to buy perfume…

    • TwoPeasInAPod says:

      I’m reminded of the “MotherLover” sketch, lol

    • Kevin says:

      Miss K: thankfully, I missed that one….

      • miss kitty v. says:

        It was actually pretty funny. I don’t watch the show, but must’ve seen in on youtube or something. I wish I had seen the Barry Gibb Talk Show bit! I may have to look that one up.

    • LaMaroc says:

      Actually, I never liked Mr. Timberlake until I saw him on SNL. He has remarkable comic timing. My favorite was his turn as the inarticulate Robin Gibb to Jimmy Fallons overzealous Barry Gibb on “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” skit.

  3. Tama says:

    I sniffed these off skin the other day and thought they were worth another go. On paper I liked Play better, mostly because it was missing whatever that typical “men’s fragrance” weird sharp note is, and seemed more basic citrus cologne-y. I’ll have to see if I get the old washrag middle dry-down. Since you said you liked wearing the extreme better I’ll give that a go too. Not that I’ll buy either one, probably.

    I always pretend not to like Justin Timberlake and then he does something so silly (like the Beyonce dance number) that I kind of have to like him. He seems to not take himself quite as seriously as some of the young ‘uns out there.

    • Kevin says:

      Tama: the Byonce number WAS funny…very “Givenchy” wasn’t it? HA!

  4. APassionateJourney says:

    I really liked Play Intense. I’m sure I’ll get it!

    • Kevin says:

      APassionateJourney: enjoy!

  5. boojum says:

    K – I’m feeling like an accidental stalker this week. I just happened to sniff the Play Intense last night. Didn’t find it very “intense”, so skipped right over regular Play. PI (not Pi) was nice enough, but didn’t really float my boat.

    • Kevin says:

      Boojum: Pi was nicer than both of these…but far from exciting.

  6. Rictor07 says:

    I smelled both of these the day after they hit the shelves in Macys. First on paper, then on my skin. They both lasted about 15 minutes on me, which is a great thing, because they both smelled awful. I was hoping the citrus notes would play out better, but the center piece in both of them ended up being the coffee flower. Bleh!

  7. alltheprettythings says:

    First things first: I find Justin Timberlake to be anything BUT seductive/attractive. I don’t see the appeal in him??

    The husband got a free bottle of Play Intense, but hasn’t worn it yet. I’m very unimpressed with the bottle designs, but I’m thinking this would be a good work fragrance for him… if not, it’ll get passed on to someone else.

    • Kevin says:

      alltheprettythings: yes, it would be fine for work.

  8. LaMaroc says:

    Not only is that bottle a yawn, but what if you set your cell phone next to your fragance on the dresser and on the way out the door you grab the frag instead of the phone!? I’d be so pissed!

    • Tama says:

      That’s funny. But you could smell good all day!

  9. Daisy says:

    I kind of got stuck on the Justin Timberlake = the embodiment of modern elegance !?? Is there another Justin Timberlake out there somewhere that I’ve never heard of??

    • Tama says:

      Yeah, I have never thought of him as elegant. He is funny, quirky, youthful, cute – they could have marketed this that way – it looks like a piece of electronica, why not just have him in his regular clothes being a goof? Seems like it would work better. Wouldn’t exactly embody the Givenchy mystique, but neither does JT in a suit!

      • krokodilgena says:

        HeeChul and his blogging cat are much more elegant
        they should be the new face of Play, y/n?

      • Daisy says:

        Tama, that’s it exactly —-it’d be more believable if they had him being goofy and played this scent that way…but I’m not buying the elegance angle.

    • Kevin says:

      Daisy: HAHAHA! So true…the French, apparently, just DON’T GET IT!

      • Daisy says:

        Perhaps the French are mocking us? no no no, what am I saying? the French would never do that!

  10. obsernity says:

    Why do I think of J Lo when I hear Play? Ah, because it’s a funky groovy song or hers, except this is Give Ann chi, or Give One Cheek…

    The bottle could at least have an in-built mp3 player…

  11. damianclark says:

    Does anyone remember their 90s releases “PLAY, FFWD and REW”? I thught they would have abandoned the concept. The scents and bottles were awful, and they didn’t sell!!

    • dewey eyed says:

      Yes! I was wondering why this was ‘new’. So these are not related?

    • miss kitty v. says:

      I was thinking the same thing, but thought maybe I was just confused. These sort of releases are starting to feel like that thing that soap operas do where they inexplicably have a different actor playing a well-established character.

  12. mikeperez23 says:

    Comme des Garcons called.

    They want their fragrance name back.

    • Kevin says:

      Mike: CdG must want to avoid ALL relations, legal and otherwise, with these two scents

      • miss kitty v. says:

        All the lawyers are too busy handling the Stella McCartney/Ali Hewson dispute anyway.

        • Daisy says:

          HA! Do you think it causes her actual discomfort, like a painful rash, when we indiscriminantly use her personal word?
          NUDE NUDE NUDE NUDE NUDE…..there, now she’ll have to soak in a soda bath for hours!

  13. lilydale aka Natalie says:

    Love the image of little mutant Giorgio with his nonna! I adore Bois d’Encens, but all I can think about is that Allure article in which he had a lackey whose only function was to spritz the room with BdE before the maestro entered.

    As for JT, he seems smart, funny, and talented, but I’d reserve “elegant” and “seductive,” for, say, M. Delon…

    • I did a snort-laugh when I read that bit, too: Tandoori-skinned big old-guy head on twiggly body! And Lilydale, your comment reminded me that Morrissey has his perfume roadie spray his stages and dressing rooms with Comme des Garçons Avignon.

      • Tama says:

        How’s that for a job title – “Perfume Roadie”! Hmm, wonder what it pays…

      • miss kitty v. says:

        I don’t know why I’m always surprised by Morrissey’s bizarre displays of ego, but I am. I guess it’s because I figure it’s all an act, and then I hear stuff like that and think… well… maybe not.

        That said, if I were a musician, I would TOTALLY have a perfume roadie. I may even look into it regardless.

        • Tama says:

          Well, if he is still doing that celibacy thing, I guess he needs some kind of outlet for everything.

      • lilydale aka Natalie says:

        Golly, I knew that Morrissey wore Avignon, but I didn’t know he went to Armani-like extremes!

        Perfume roadie, hmm… OK if the boss likes BdE or Avignon, but what if you had to spray endless clouds of, oh, I don’t know… Givenchy Play? Or worse!

  14. Jessica says:

    A propos of nothing… A few years ago, I went to Christmas mass at a Catholic church in downtown Manhattan. It has an amazing Baroque Revival building. Giorgio Armani entered, looking very tanned and toned (in black), with an entourage of tanned, toned young men (also in black). He seemed to enjoy the church’s interior and the traditional mass, incense and all!

  15. cherlana32 says:

    I actually just the other day read an interview with him in some magazine (Cosmo? Glamour?) where he said that he thinks it’s sexy when women wear men’s fragrances, and he thinks Play would smell good on Jessica.


    I’m guessing he didn’t smell the plastic funkiness?

    • Tama says:

      He’d like most of us, then!

  16. ceelouise says:

    I love reading perfume reviews, but I too struggle with imagery or “creation stories” that may not jibe with how I interpret the perfume. However, I’d love it if the perfume sales people I encountered had good stories to tell like your sales person at Nordstrom. So often they have nothing to say but ‘have you tried the new xxx’, which is disappointing when there’s so much to be said about perfume! With Play, I can’t get past the packaging to really give the scent a try. It’s a problem I have – I associate the packaging with the scent. That’s why I love Malle, Histoires de Parfums, Nicolai and l’Artisan – more uniform packaging to appreciate the scent. But then, I do love a gorgeous bottle like Lolita Lempicka – so fun to spray! Maybe some young guys will think the same of Play.

  17. Rappleyea says:

    Kevin –
    You never fail to entertain! This one had me laughing out loud:

    “I don’t like other people’s faces (and life stories or fantasies) intruding on my perfume experiences.”

    I totally agree!

    • Kevin says:

      Rappleyea: thank you…I hope some day that image of l’il Giorgio fades (that’ll probably happen the day Bois d’Encens isn’t so over priced)

  18. zara says:

    I had to laught hard at your imagery of the young armani being pulled to church by his grandmother :D

  19. Celestia says:

    I agree that it is unfortunate when a celebrity devalues a fragrance. There has been a collective sigh of relief now that Hilary’s contract has ended. Ewan McGregor is another one that makes me cringe for Davidoff. But I suppose it’s all a matter of personal taste, just like what we prefer in scents. Justin was SO much cuter when he was dating Britney. He shaved and had hair on his head. I’ve not been enamored of him of late, however, I must say that his stints on SNL have been some of the best stuff on that show in years. He is obviously a very talented guy: he sings, dances, acts, has a fashion line. Too bad he isn’t attractive.

  20. HDS1963 says:

    Dear God, as if the original Play wasn’t ordinary enough, they’ve gone and made an Intense version? Have these people got no friends who will tell them that it wasn’t that good in the first place?

  21. jonr951 says:

    Play Intense has such an amazing lasting power! Ive never experienced such great lasting power from an EDT! Its really wonderful! Its another one i really want! Im really lovin the scent and the fact that it lasts and lasts is a huge plus in my book! Nice job Givenchy! O and i only sprayed a tiny bit on myself at Macys today and it really outlasted everything else i tried! Again, great great job Givenchy!

  22. APassionateJourney says:

    I ended up buying both Play and Play Intense in 3.3 oz bottles yesterday! I can’t get enough of either of them! I didn’t like the Play when I sprayed it on paper, but when I sprayed it on my skin…..MMMMMMM! I love them both!

  23. Play Intense is uber gourmand on my skin… made me reach for extra pieces of Torrone last night.

  24. cologneluvr says:

    I quite like and enjoy this scent. Givenchy Play starts with a sweet-citrus aroma [but not cloyingly sweet], then morphs quickly into a plastic-y, sweaty accord [but don’t be put-off by the latter description, it’s actually rather nice] finally the dry down is soft, powdery, woodsy and musky with the sweetness amped up a little more but still without being cloying. This fragrance reminds one of being in a barbershop; it’s a soft sweet masculinity that is musky enough to attract the ladies. The sillage is soft to moderate and it wears close to the skin so whomever is near has to come close to get a whiff. You can wear Givenchy Play year round, into the office without offending anyone and on the weekends; this is a very wearable scent. I most definitely recommend this fragrance. A MUST BUY!!!

  25. Rosabelle says:

    i think I will buy this in Intense for my 17 years old son. Along with Bulgari’s Homme Soir which I find extremely atractive and gourmand ! They are both perfumes for young elegant boys :))

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